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'If it was any other sport, you’d be shouting, singing, and dancing about it constantly. But it's Para sport'

The fastest Paralympian on the planet, Jason Smyth isn’t thinking about anything but gold at Tokyo 2020.

allianz-courage-chronicles-jason-smyth Jason Smyth, pictured at the launch of the second video in Allianz’s Courage Chronicles series. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

JASON SMYTH IS one of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced.

The world’s fastest Paralympian, his 15-year dominance is unprecedented, to say the very least.

In brief: five Paralympic gold medals at three Games, eight World and six European Championship titles, while undefeated on the major championship stage between Paralympics and Para athletics sprint events.
10.22 is Smyth’s lifetime best over 100m, clocked at an able-bodied competition in 2011, and it ranks him as the second fastest Irishman in history after Paul Hession’s national record of 10.18 from 2007.

The 34-year-old Derryman is worth his weight in gold, enjoying unparalleled success in the T13 class of the 100m and 200m. But it’s fair to say that he does not get the credit, recognition, or appreciation he deserves.

The same could be said about Para athletes in general. It’s an ongoing talking point, and one hammered home on these shores by Ellen Keane of late. Smyth’s name always comes up in the conversation.

“A Paralympic gold isn’t viewed the same as an Olympic gold medal and that’s a sad fact I know because Jason Smyth has spent 13 years unbeaten, he’s won every single gold medal and he’s never won RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year,” the Para swimmer told The Irish Independent earlier this year.

Wheelchair racer Patrick Monahan echoed those sentiments days later to The42, stating that recognition for Para athletes is certainly “still lagging behind,” while using the same example.

“You see Jason Smyth, the fastest Paralympian in the world, and does he get the recognition he deserves? I don’t think he does,” he said.

“One of the most high-profile Paralympians and he just doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves. I’m sure a lot of people in Ireland would know who the fastest Olympian in the world is. Probably a lot of people in Ireland maybe do [know Smyth] but I think on a global level, how many people would know Jason? And then you look at Usain Bolt or someone like that in the past. You can’t even compare them.”

It’s interesting to hear Smyth’s opinion.

jason-smyth-celebrates-winning-the-final Celebrating at the 2017 Para Athletics World Championships. Source: Kieran Galvin/INPHO

He lays it out in black and white.

“There’s not really any questions to ask,” he begins. “We don’t get the same recognition and awareness. That being said, it has improved a lot, there’s no doubt about that.

“Things just don’t change overnight and there is a responsibility on athletes and the success that we have to try and change that awareness and that recognition.

“Taking me out of it personally, but looking at what I’ve achieved: 20 gold medals, competed at my first international in 2005, and never been beaten. If the likes of that had happened for an Olympic athlete, I think it would be very clear, it would be very different in what we know about them and the recognition, everything that comes with it. I don’t really think anybody can argue with it.

“I don’t take it personally but that’s a very obvious, easy example. If it was any other sport, you’d probably be shouting, singing, and dancing about it constantly but in Para sport, it’s not.”

“I think in a lot of sports, people have to blaze the way and change the path ahead,” he adds, “and with Para sport really turning since London 2012, we may look back in 10, 15, 20 years and it was a number of the successful athletes through that period that has started it down this path and like a snowball, it just builds.

“The one challenge is, will Para sport in Ireland continue to have the success it has had over the last number of years? I think that’s going to be quite hard to continue.”

Smyth is hell-bent on keeping his own upward trajectory, and gold rush, going this summer.

It’s fascinating to listen to him speak as he gears up for this fourth Paralympics in Tokyo this August, undoubtedly a “a very different Games” against the backdrop of Covid-19.

“That really is what allows you to be successful, finding answers to those problems, and realising there’s not one way of doing it,” he notes at one point, detailing the restrictions and barriers which have forced him to re-think his training plan of late.

The father-of-two will take it all in his stride, though. He hasn’t raced yet, his preparations hampered by a back injury last year, though all aligned towards peaking when it matters as he keeps his eyes on the prize.

jason-smyth-wins-his-heat Winning his heat in Rio. Source: Dan Behr/INPHO

“Everything for me has been geared towards trying to run fast when I need to which is the end of August, and not trying to rush or force things to compete. I’m happy with where things are at,” he stresses, confident in the solid foundations he has laid.

Continually building from his base in Belfast, Smyth will race there this weekend. Then it’s off to camp to fine-tune and sharpen up, before rounding off his warm-ups for the Games with a few more races.

And then it’s showtime.

He’s going to Tokyo, knowing what it’s all about with one thing on his mind: gold.

Given his history, is that the only acceptable outcome?

“That’s where the target is and the target will always be,” he nods.

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“I mean that’s where I aim for, that’s what I want. I don’t really think about anything else. At the end of the day, it’s about getting my performance right, and when my performance is right, then that’s more likely to happen. Yeah, that’s very much the target.”

Older and more experienced this time around, he’ll use that to his advantage,and expects mentality to play a massive part in this scaled-back, more restricted and isolated Games.

It must be said, his mentality and mindset pretty bullet-proof, best seen as he speaks about what makes him tick:

“The reason why I’m still going and still driven to be successful at this stage for the length of time I’ve been competing and the success I’ve had, I’ve [more] medals to lose if I continue to compete, than I do to gain.

“That all comes from a mentality and I suppose, a desire to to continue to improve and continue to set the standard at that very top and I still believe I can do it and will do it, and so I continue to try and compete at that level.”

Success, medals and competition are the name of the game at the highest level, but Smyth will never lose track of what sport is all about — and how much it has given him.

In his powerful Allianz Courage Chronicles video, he touched on how athletics helped him accept his visual impairment, and encouraged him to speak openly about it.

“It’s this journey through sport that was the massive turning point,” he smiles.

“Sport allowed me to begin to accept it. I mean, the reality is sport and Para sport started to highlight my visual impairment and I had to learn to get more comfortable in that, but I think a lot is probably driven by confidence.

“And as I had success, I became more confident in me and the things I did and me as a person. I learned to accept that. That’s one of the incredible things about sport and why I would be, in general, a big advocate for sport because of what sport can do. It has the power to, to change people for good; develop physically, socially, mentally.

“A lot of the skills and attributes that I’ve developed to be at the level I’ve been at are all skills and attributes that I can take with me wherever I go, into whatever career I go after. It’s those attributes, success. So much for me has been because of sport and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had through my journey of sport.”

*********************

Jason Smyth, Allianz brand ambassador and five-time Paralympic gold medallist, was speaking at the launch of the second video in Allianz’s Courage Chronicles series.

Earlier this year Allianz announced an eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, building on a global collaboration with the Paralympic Movement since 2006. For more information go to www.allianz.com

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Emma Duffy

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